Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

Custom Search

© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

And so it begins…

This seems to be the week for hard and fast deadlines. So finally, I will complete the two-part discussion I started three weeks ago, which is now starting to seem too trivial to even think about.

Before reading any further, please click here and read the first half. Once you have done that, you may proceed…

Now that you have read the first half, you know that in Babylon 5 there are two over-arching backstories. One is about the conflict between the Vorlons and the Shadows over the best way to help the younger races of the galaxy (including the people of planet earth) evolve—pitting cooperation against competition and conflict. The other is about a totalitarian regime that takes over the earth government and institutes repressive measures, citing a menace from malevolent aliens.

As for the Vorlon/Shadow thing, the humans (on behalf of all the galaxy’s younger races) tell both the Vorlons and the Shadows to, more or less, go stuff themselves. And they do. The younger races, including the humans, are left to find their own way. To the extent that this represents a rejection of rigid, doctrinaire ideologies, I go along with it.

As for the dictatorial ways of John Clarke, the earth vice-president who arranges the assassination of the president and consequently takes over the government with an iron grip, this is really a less than satisfactory literary gambit. In real life, how many times has something like this actually happened? Coups, as a means of changing a government, are all too common, but how often does a well-established democracy suddenly become a dictatorship? The case that is usually brought up is Nazi Germany. How, we have to wonder, did Adolf Hitler manage to come to power through democratic means and then turn Germany into a totalitarian state? But how much of a democratic tradition did Germany really have at that point? The Weimar Republic wasn’t exactly a shining example of a modern functioning democracy (thanks largely to the way the first world war was settled). And before that, Germany had a Kaiser. Historically, it’s actually rather hard to find a case where a truly flourishing democracy became a dictatorship. The best case may be Chile, which had a fairly long democratic tradition that was abruptly interrupted in 1973 by a military coup. There are still a lot of people in that country who defend the golpe as necessary means to deal with a leftist threat, even though the passage of time has taken its toll on Pinochet’s legacy, even among his supporters. But the bottom line is that, in the end, Chile’s democratic traditions have eventually won out. At the end of the day, it is just hard to find cases where a firmly democratic society has suddenly and definitively turned dictatorial.

But could it happen? Is it happening now in the United States? I don’t know. The U.S. instituted some pretty repressive measures during World War II—notably internment concentration camps for Americans of Japanese ancestry. But this was eventually corrected and acknowledged for the overreaction it was. Are innocent Americans of Arab extraction suffering unfairly now because of the war on terrorism? Probably. But if history is any guide, it should, hopefully, be a temporary aberration.

This faith in entrenched democracies may seem a bit cavalier, and it probably is. Democracy should never be taken for granted, and if America and Europe are blessed with a democratic way of life, this is due in large part to the groups and individuals who are vocal with their dissent of what their governments are doing. As I sit here in my abode in the west of Ireland, listening through the magic of satellite television and radio to news sources all over the U.S. and Europe, I am fairly confident that these countries are in no imminent danger of having dissent stifled.

This is not to say that what the American government (along with Britain and other countries) is doing is right. That will be clear only in the course of time. But to the extent that one can take comfort at a terrible time like this, I take comfort in the fact that the American president rallied the nation to war, not with exhortations of manifest destiny but with apparent soul searching, claiming to regard war as the last resort. Sadly, however, this will be no comfort to those that will die in the war.

The reality is that the 1991 Gulf War never really ended, and the Iraqi people have suffered for years under a brutal regime as well as from well-intentioned but punishing UN sanctions. The best we can hope for at this point is that the war will soon and finally be over.

* * *

Quite apart from the disturbing world events, I have been in mourning this past week.

The actor Lynne Thigpen died on March 12 at the age of 54. She was in the 1973 movie musical Godspell and was the radio deejay in the 1979 film The Warriors. She also had recurring roles in the TV series thirtysomething, L.A. Law and Law & Order. More recently, she had small roles in the films Bob Roberts, The Insider and the remake of Shaft. She has also been playing Ella Farmer on the television series The District. At the same time, she has had a significant career in children’s television, playing “The Chief” on Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?

Frankly, despite years of solid work, Lynne Thigpen barely made an impression on me in all those roles. But she played one character that became an integral part of my life and that of my family. She provided the voice for Luna the moon on the Jim Henson TV series Bear in the Big Blue House. As such, she has been a mother figure and comforting presence for my daughter for many mornings. And she will continue to be for some time. I don’t know how or why Thigpen died so prematurely, but just as Luna the moon is timeless, so she shall be. In her own way, she has achieved a well-deserved immortality. Long may she continue to rise in the starry night sky.

-S.L., 20 March 2003

If you would like to respond to this commentary or to anything else on this web site, please send a message to Messages sent to this address will be considered for publishing on the Feedback Page without attribution. (That means your name, email address or anything else that might identify you won’t be included.) Messages published will be at my discretion and subject to editing. But I promise not to leave something out just because it’s unflattering.

If you would like to send me a message but not have it considered for publishing, you can send it to

Commentaries Archive